Tag Archives: libraries

No libraries = No Terry Pratchett

pterrylibrary

Phil: This week’s blog post was set to be something whimsical and lightweight. Then I sat in my hotel room on Saturday night after a couple of bottles of pomegranate and strawberry cider washing down a rather nice curry, and flipped on the telly.

Terry Pratchett – Back in Black tells the author’s life story. Paul Kaye plays pTerry (as his fans call him) and along the way we meet both famous and non-famous readers. We see how the literary establishment hated his books complete with a cringeworthy clip from a review show that those taking part will probably wish to forget, and later decided he was A. Good. Thing. Along with another clip of more literary people saying this.

I’ve tried but failed to read Pratchett. I ought to love it but I can’t find a way in. It doesn’t matter, the documentary is brilliant, affecting and a superb celebration of the man.

What struck me was that before he wrote, he read. Everything. Well, everything in his local library starting with fantasy and then history, “Blokes in helmets bashing each other” as he described it. Reading planted all the seeds for the character in his stories.

This week, I read in my local paper that our council is making more cuts. Headlines are those for old people or children but tucked away are libraries – again.

I’ve said before how my local library was essential for my development. I’m not going to compare myself with Pratchett but to lift a line from the documentary, I’m a human. He is a human. My poo stinks. His poo stinks. I loved my library. He loved his library. He is a writer. I want to be a writer.

Does it matter if we deny kids the chance to wallow in reading? Probably not. After all, do we need people with imagination?

Sorry, I’m ranting. Go and watch the programme on iPlayer while you have a the chance. Just keep some tissues handy…

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Libraries used to be simpler

Library CardPhil: According to my calendar, it’s time to renew my Library books. Specifically, it’s time to renew the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook that I’m supposed to be looking for publishing agents addresses in.

I am looking at the date because it was 2 days ago so I am now clocking up fines for not getting the books back on time. I am a bad man.

Now, in theory I can renew my books online. I know this because in a past life I was lightly involved in making this happen.  Now I’ve moved on, I can’t remember my PIN number so that’s another days worth of fines to clock up.

When I was a kid, libraries were a lot simpler. They had little card wallets with your name on them. When a book was borrowed, a ticket from inside would be slipped into the wallet to be retrieved when it was returned. Then new tickets with bar codes on were issued and books were scanned in and out. Both of these systems involved writing inside the book the return date.

Now we don’t get this. By the library entrance there are machines you put the books and your card in to. Some clever jiggery-pokery later and the details are recorded on your records and if you want to know the return dates other than on screen, it can print you a receipt.

All this is good for librarians. They used to hate the impression that most people had of them stamping books in and out. The profession is much more about helping the visitor find the right book or the right bit of information. They leapt on the Internet when it appeared, my first serious on-line experience was on the sole library PC, and most have a selection of publicly available computers along with staff to help you use them.

Elseshwere, there are events to get you reading. The entrance is home to regularly changing displays encouraging reader to try different books to the ones they normally look at. I’ve picked up a couple from here before so this works. Events for kids with story reading are regular features, especially during holiday times. I suspect I’d have loved these when I was a nipper. My Mum would have appreciated the chance to have someone else read to me too.

Anyway, another days of fines to come but that’s my fault. I think I’d rather pay them than explain to Ms Nolan quite why I still need the Yearbook. I’ll be done by next month. Honest!

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A Personal History of Libraries

Whitnash LibraryPhil: My first library was unsurprisingly the one nearest where I lived.

Whitnash Library wasn’t always in black and white but in recent years, the original late 60s building has been extended a couple of times. They’ve moved the entrance around the side too. This photo shows it as I remember. Nothing special but important to me.

It was where I attained my first library card. Not one of your fancy modern computer readable jobbies – a little yellow wallet about an inch wide that the librarian would fill with the ticket from the book I was borrowing. It would then be placed in a drawer, the book stamped with a return date and off I would go for some serious reading.

It was here that I borrowed my first book on railways, “Model Trains, Railroads in the making“. More importantly, it supplied me with every Famous Five and Secret Seven story that Enid Blyton ever wrote. I remember being allowed to go on my own to the library, which was handy as children were only allowed a single ticket. Adults got 3 green tickets as they could be trusted to keep more books at home. It didn’t matter, I could work my way through the shelves one volume at a time. The most important thing was the choice was mine. An adult didn’t need to help, I learned to look at the covers and decide if I wanted to read the contents. Sometimes I would borrow a book more than once and re-read it if nothing else appealed to me.

Leamington Library

Leamington Spa Library

Later on, my Mum used to take me to the big library in town. This was a real revelation – the children’s section was nearly as big as the entire building in Whitnash.

I think I started with most of the “Marmaduke the lorry” stories writen by Eizabeth Chapman. A bit like the Rev W Awdry’s Railway series, these centred on an old lorry called Marmaduke who, along with his driver, had adventures. Nothing earth shattering but pleasant enough for a child.

It was here that I first dipped my toe into science fiction with Patrick Moore’s “Mission to Mars” series. Since he was of a scientific bent, as well as enjoying the stories, I learnt a bit. For example, I was introduced to the idea of muscle wasting because astronauts who had lived on Mars for a long while wouldn’t be able to stand Earth gravity. In one of the books, it was suggested that the base be shut down and so those unfortunates who lived there would have to live the rest of their lives on a space station. OK, not rocket science (pun intended) but when you are eight, quite something to take in. Even tougher was trying to pronounce Woomera – these were British spacemen so they launched from our fields in Australia. I didn’t understand exactly what an empire or commonwealth was until this point.

After a couple of years, there was the inevitable frustration that my reading had advanced beyond the children’s section. Young adult fiction didn’t exist but my Mum let me use one of her tickets (she had 5, I had 3) for books from the grown-up shelves.

Leamington Library

Leamington Library Today

The library still exists but has moved around the corner to the Pump rooms into the old swimming baths. They’ve taken out the water and replaced it with books. The old changing rooms have gone too, I won’t miss them as they were horrible.

Anyway, I still drop in from time to time. The number of books has been reduced, although you can still order them from stock elsewhere in the county. I’ve had the Writers & Artists yearbook out a couple of times. The reference section is still pretty good and you can read quite a selection of current magazines for free. There are banks of computers and people to help you make best use of them. There’s also someone I once interviewed for a job in there but I hope he doesn’t remember me as he didn’t get it.

Occasionally I drop in for the atmosphere. You can go into town, wander into the library just to sit and read. I like that. It’s a good place to work if concentration matters or I simply need to be somewhere different.

What I like even more is that there are books to borrow for free. And events to get youngsters interested in reading. And staff who want you to read – they change the display of books regularly so you are encouraged to discover something new. It was because of this that I read Michael Rosen’s moving book “Carrying the Elephant” about the death of his son. It caught my eye and I read it sat in a comfy chair in a corner. I’d never have seen it otherwise. More recently, I picked up my first Stephen King from the shelves.

All the libraries allowed me to read. It’s not like I come from a home where there were no books, far from it. No matter how many books we had, I could always read more. My parents didn’t need to try to keep up with my voracious appetite for reading, it was there for free. I could experiment – if I didn’t like a book, there was always another. I was proud of my library card and certainly gave it a good workout.

This post was inspired by John Scalzi’s Personal History of Libraries.

His post was inspired by the news that Horrible Histories author Terry Deary thinks libraries should be shut down. I think Terry Deary is an idiot.

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